How Miss SA became less about the superficial but rather a celebration of the holistic beauty, talents and brains of women
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Tonight, one lucky woman will go to bed as Miss South Africa 2021, taking over from the current titleholder, Shudufhadzo Musida.
Miss SA 2021 will be crowned at the Grand Arena, GrandWest in Cape Town. The event will be screened live from 5 PM on M-Net (DStv Channel 101) and Mzansi Magic (DStv Channel 161) and will also be streamed online for an international audience on MissSA.live with extra highlights and exclusive content.
Musida’s reign will go down in history. Crowned during a global pandemic, she had to resort to finding ways to use social media in order to continue the cause she was advocating for mental health.
And yet, even with the challenges the pandemic posed during her reign, she still managed to do things that even some of her predecessors did not have the opportunity to do.
Her reign was symbolic, in the sense that she signalled just how much the world of beauty pageants has changed. No are longer just for the tallest, thinnest and most modelesque woman, with the longest hair.
When Zozibini Tunzi, a woman with short, natural Afro hair, won Miss SA 2019 and later Miss Universe, she made history. Not only did she inspire many women, but also little black girls who saw that it's possible for a person who looks like them to be a beauty queen.
In the past, dark-skinned girls were seen as less beautiful, especially if they didn’t have long, straight hair. However, Tunzi proved that every woman is beautiful irrespective of skin colour, hair texture, and body size.
Musida, who will hand over the crown tonight, took it to another level when she won Miss SA 2020. The bald-head beauty is not like the models we used to see in magazines when we were young. She has curves, is darker-skinned and is extremely beautiful.
The current beauty pageants have shown us that it’s not all about beauty but ensuring that all women are presented. And it’s something that’s happening globally as other countries follow the model that has made South Africa a success at global pageants in recent years.
“I think as an organisation, we have started a journey towards showing beauty in diversity and that beauty is completely subjective and that all women should be celebrated,” says Werner Wessels, a pageant coach who successfully coached Rolene Strauss, who won Miss World in 2014 and Demi-Leigh Nel Peters, who won Miss Universe in 2017. He is now the creative director of Miss South Africa.
“Miss South Africa has done an incredible job in showcasing these women and helping them to find their voices and the things that they are passionate about. And try to make a difference in the world.”
Ahead of the 2019 Miss Universe pageant, which was held in Atlanta, Tunzi’s advisers didn’t have much faith in her choosing to wear her hair in its natural state and suggested that she gets a wig. And yet, the Tsolo-born star was adamant in walking the stage with her afro hair. And it paid off because she became the first Miss Universe with afro-textured hair. It’s a decision that Wessels is proud of.
“We wanted to show the world that there are different standards of beauty and that South African women are not one size fits all; that women are beautiful in all shapes and sizes. And I think we have started that journey successfully so far, and we will continue to do so,” says Wessels.
Also, most beauty pageant titleholders aren’t just about showcasing their beauty anymore. These are the women of substance who use their influence to tackle issues faced by women and children around the world.
For example, Musida wrote a children’s book: Shudu Finds Her Magic, aimed at helping children with issues like bullying and depression.
Many children face bullying at schools, and as a person who experienced it first-hand, Musida is doing well by helping other kids who are experiencing the same fate she went through.
Former Miss South Africa titleholder and Miss Universe 2018 first runner-up, Tamaryn Green, also agrees that there has been a positive change in beauty pageants.
“The pageant industry has become more inclusive and diversified. I believe that the focus of the pageant has changed its criteria to focus on more than just the exterior beauty of women but now captures women as multi-faceted. It’s showcases women with intellect, passion and goals,” explains Green.
She adds that pageants do play a role in helping women become a better version of themselves.
“Pageants influence the way women might see themselves, understand themselves, etc. A perfect example is when Zozi won Miss Universe, and so many young women who saw themselves in her, with short hair and were possibly insecure about it, now embrace their hair.”
To add to the role of beauty pageants in addressing issues faced by women in the communities they live in, Wessels says: “I think beauty pageants play a critical role in making the world understand that women can be beautiful, but they are also smart, intelligent and that they have an opinion. And that they want their voices to be heard.”
Green will be returning to Miss SA as one of the judges.
She hopes that the winner will be someone who is: “ Kind, confident and a dedicated woman, who has a vision for our country. A woman who is unapologetically herself, brightens up a room and installs hope in those around her.”
Miss South Africa 2021 will be hosted by Anele Mdoda and Nico Panagio. Meanwhile, Miss Universe titleholders Catriona Gray (2018) and her successor, Zozibini Tunzi (2019) – will be sharing the Miss SA stage as backstage presenters.
The winner of this year's pageant will take home a package of prizes and sponsorships worth more than R3-million.
This article was first published in Saturday Insider, Oct 16, 2021